Nick Shepherd



Human archaeology in southern Africa has since its beginnings been implicated in the projects of evolutionism and biological racism. Nick Shepherd’s delvings into the underground of the discipline are part of an honourable effort to save archaeology from its past, an effort that starts with recognizing dig sites for what they have always been: the sacred ground of the dispossessed. The Mirror in the Ground offers us a fresh way of looking at the photographic archive, with a commentary as moving and compassionate as it is unsettling” – JM Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature.



Nick Shepherd is Associate Professor of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at Aarhus University in Denmark. He is also currently Artist in Residence at the Reinwardt Academy of the Amsterdam University of Art. Until recently, he was Associate Professor of African Studies and Archaeology at the University of Cape Town, where he convened the graduate programme in Heritage and Public Culture in Africa. He was founding editor of the journal Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress. In 2004-5 he was based at Harvard University as a Mandela Fellow. In 2008 he was a Visiting Professor at Brown University, and in 2009 at the University of Basel. In 2015-16 he was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Colgate University. He has published widely on questions of archaeology and society in Africa, and on questions of public history, memory and heritage. His books include the volumes Desire Lines; Space, memory and identity in the postapartheid city (2007), New South African Keywords (2008), and After Ethics: Ancestral voices and postdisciplinary worlds in archaeology (2014). His book The Mirror in the Ground: Archaeology, photography and the making of a disciplinary archive was published in 2014 to critical acclaim. His recent books include Arqueología y decolonialidad [Archaeology and Decoloniality] (2016), co-written with Alejandro Haber and Cristobal Gnecco, and a book of essays,  La Mano del Arqueologo: Ensayos 2001-2015. [The Hand of the Archaeologist: Essays 2001-2015]



Heritage Studies, Postcolonial Archaeology, Public Archaeology, Indigenous Archaeology, Archaeological Theory, African Studies, Visual Studies.



Knowledge politics, history of ideas, heritage, memory, restitution, digital heritage, the global south, social movements, subaltern epistemologies



“Archaeology takes you to the caves and dry place in which logos, the word, shrivels on the tongue. An archetypically modern pursuit (Benjamin, Derrida, Foucault and Freud were all fascinated by the trope of archaeology) it is also deeply anti-modern: in its adherence to objects, in its pursuit of deep time, in its efforts to summon other worlds. My own work is situated in the sub-fields of Postcolonial Archaeology, Indigenous Archaeology, Public Archaeology and Social Archaeology. At the same time, I try to push a set of debates. Every one of those labels frames its own question. Currently I have two projects. The first is concerned with social movements and archaeology: specifically, subaltern groupings who mobilise around sacred sites, material cultures and the remains of the dead in the course of struggles around rights, resources and representation. Framed in primordialist terms, these struggles typically involve complex plays around the (re)invention of tradition and the staging of ethnic identities. Articulated in response to forms of globalization/ development, and as a counter-point to the global proliferation of CRM, these developments are currently remaking worlds of practice in archaeology. This is a potent conjunction of cultural heritage, identity politics and disciplinary practice, which I describe as archaeology ‘at the sharp edge of the trowel’.


My second project is concerned with colonial epistemologies and decolonial knowledges in archaeology. Called ‘Archaeology, Coloniality, Modernity’, it begins by sketching an alternative genealogy of the discipline. This names archaeology not as the project of a single formative context – modernity – as standard accounts do, but as the result of a complex twinning of colonialism and modernity. A number of concerns follow. These include the fate of local and Indigenous knowledges of gone time and practices in relation to the materiality of the past in the present, subalternised and rendered fugitive by disciplinary knowledges. A key category of concern is the status and meanings of the dead (the ancestors) whose co-presence conditions the possibilities of the contemporary moment. Subsidiary concerns include notions of body as archive, performance as archive, landscape as archive. Disciplinary knowledges are born under the sign of an epistemic violence whose locus is a regime of care centred in the museum/ archive. A decolonial archaeology begins when we anatomize (interrogate) this violence and, under the heading of ‘back to life’, propose alternative regimes of care.” – See more here



The Mirror in the Ground (book publication) (academic grooming site)


O’Connell Shepherd (consultancy)



Cape Town Curatorial Residency 2016, day 3, Slangkop tented camp. Photographer: Barry Christianson.


Fish Hoek Valley, Peers Cave on the ridge in the background. March 2015, in preparation for The Mirror in the Ground exhibition. Photographer: Rosa Shepherd.


Fish Hoek Valley, March 2015, with Felix Shepherd. Photographer: Ashley Walters.



Cape Town Curatorial Residency 2016, day 3, Slangkop tented camp. Photographer: Barry Christianson.


Urban Cultural Heritage and Creative Practice, January 2012.



Shepherd, N. (2002). Disciplining Archaeology: The Invention of South African Prehistory, 1923-1953. Kronos, (28), 127-45.

Shepherd, N. (2002). Heading South, Looking North. Why we need a post-colonial archaeology. Archaeological Dialogues, 9(2), 74-82.

Shepherd, N. (2002). The Politic Body: When the drama of past conflict has been written on the bodies of its subjects. Animated, Spring, 6-8.

Shepherd, N. (2002). The Politics of Archaeology in Africa. Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, 189-209.

Shepherd, N. & K. Mathers (2002). Who’s watching Big Brother? Reality television and cultural power in South Africa. Africa e Mediterraneo, 38, 67-9.

Shepherd, N. (2003). State of the Discipline: Science, culture and identity in South African archaeology. Journal of Southern African Studies, 29(4), 823-44.

Shepherd, N. (2003). WAC5: In the belly of the beast. Public Archaeology, 4(2), 100-3.

Shepherd, N. (2003). “When the hand that holds the trowel is black…”. Disciplinary practices of self-representation and the issue of “native” labour in archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology, 3(3), 334-52.

Shepherd, N. (2004). Heading South, Looking North: Why we need a postcolonial archaeology Public Archaeology, 3(4), 248-56.

Shepherd, N. (2004). Pre-colonial Histories (Southern Africa), in Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures, eds. D. Johnson & P. Poddar

Shepherd, N. (2005). Roots and Wings: Heritage Studies in the Humanities, in Shifting Boundaries of Knowledge; a view on social sciences, law and humanities in Africa, eds. T. Marcus & A. Hofmanner Durban: University of KwaZulu Press, 125-40.

Shepherd, N. (2005). Who is doing courses in archaeology at South African universities? And what are they studying? South African Archaeological Bulletin, 60(182), 123-6.

Shepherd, N. & S. Lawrence (2006). Historical Archaeology and Colonialism, in The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, eds. D. Hicks & M. Beaudry Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 69-86.

Shepherd, N. (2006). What Does it Mean to Give the Past Back to the People? Archaeology and Ethics in the Post-colony, in Archaeology and Capitalism: From Ethics to Politics, eds. Y. Hamilakis & P. Duke London: UCL Press, 99-114.

Shepherd, N; N Murray and M. Hall (eds.) (2007) Desire Lines; Space, memory and identity in the post-apartheid city. Oxford: Routledge.

Shepherd, N. (2007). Archaeology Dreaming; postapartheid urban imaginaries and the bones of the Prestwich Street dead. Journal of Social Archaeology, 7(1), 3-28.

Shepherd, N., N. Lahiri, J. Watkins & L. Zimmerman (2007). Dialogos Desde el Sur: Foro Virtual: Arqueologia descolonization. Arqueologia Suramericana, 3(1), 3-19.

Shepherd, N., N. Lahiri, J. Watkins & L. Zimmerman (2007). Virtual Forum: Archaeology and decolonization. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, 3(3), 390-412.

Shepherd, N. & C. Ernsten (2007). Urban imaginaries and memories of violence: Cape Town’s Prestwich Street. Volume, 11, 138-41.

Shepherd, N. & N. Murray (2007). Introduction: Space, memory and identity in the postapartheid city, in Desire Lines: Space, memory and identity in the postapartheid city, eds. N. Murray, N. Shepherd & M. Hall Oxford: Routledge, 1-18.

Shepherd, N. & C. Ernsten (2007). The World Below: Postapartheid urban imaginaries and the remains of the Prestwich Street dead, in Desire Lines: Space, memory and identity in the postapartheid city, eds. N. Murray, N. Shepherd & M. Hall Oxford: Routledge, 215-32.

Shepherd, N and S. Robins (eds.) (2008) New South African Keywords. Cape Town: Jacana Media and Ohio University Press.

Shepherd, N. & S. Robins (2008). Introduction: New South African keywords, in New South African Keywords, eds. N. Shepherd & S. Robins Johannesburg and Athens, Ohio: Jacana and Ohio University Press, 1-12.

Shepherd, N. (2008). Heritage, in New South African Keywords, eds. N. Shepherd & S. Robins Cape Town and Athens, Ohio: Jacana Media and Ohio University Press, 116-128.

Shepherd, N. & A. Haber (2011). What’s Up with WAC? Archaeology and “engagement” in a globalized world. Public Archaeology, 10(2), 96-115.

Shepherd, N. (2011). Archaeology Dreaming: Postapartheid urban imaginaries and the remains of the Prestwich Street dead, in New Perspectives in Global Public Archaeology, eds. K. Okamura & A. Matsuda New York: Springer, 155-66.

Shepherd, N. (2011). Showing, Telling, Looking: Intimate encounters in the making of South African archaeology, in The Archaeology of Colonialism: Intimate encounters and sexual effects, eds. B. Voss & E. Casella Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 290-302.

Shepherd, N. (2012). The Uncreated Man: A story of archaeology and imagination. Archaeological Dialogues 19(2): 171-194.

Shepherd, N. (2012). Historical Archaeology in Africa, in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, ed. N. Silberman Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shepherd, N. & O. Harmansah (2012). The Location of Theory. Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 8(1), 52-54.

Shepherd, N., (2012). The Humility of Sarah Baartman: Materiality, memory, experience and contrapuntal accounts, in Modern Materials: Proceedings from the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology and Theory Conference 2009, eds. B. Fortenberry & L. McAtackney Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 119-121.

Shepherd, N. (2012). Ruin Memory: A hauntology of Cape Town. Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the tropes of modernity. A. Gonzalez-Ruibal. Oxford: Routledge, 233-243.

Shepherd, N. & A. Haber (2013). Counter-practices of Global Life. Public Archaeology, 10(3), 58-64.

Shepherd, N. (2013). Archaeology in the Postcolony: Disciplinary entrapments, subaltern epistemologies, in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World, eds. P. Graves-Brown, R. Harrison & A. Piccini Oxford: Oxford University Press, 425-436.

Shepherd, N. & A. Haber (2014). The Hand of the Archaeologist: Historical catastrophe, regimes of care, excision, relationality, undisciplinarity, in Courature, eds. C. Hamilton & P. Skotnes. Cape Town: Jacana Media, 110-123.

Shepherd, N. (2014). The humility of Sarah Baartman, in S. Inggs ed. Object Relations: Essays and images. Cape Town: Michaelis School of Fine Art: 46-49.

Shepherd, N and A Haber (eds.) (2014). After Ethics: Ancestral voices and postdisciplinary worlds in archaeologyNew York: Springer Press.

Shepherd, N. (2014). Undisciplining Archaeological Ethics. In: Haber, A and N. Shepherd (eds.) After Ethics: Ancestral voices and postdisciplinary worlds in archaeology. New York: Springer Press.

Shepherd N. (2015). The Mirror in the Ground: Archaeology, photography and the making of a disciplinary archive. Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers and the Centre for Curating the Archive.

Shepherd, N. (2015). Digging Deep: A hauntology of Cape Town. In: John Cherry and Felipe Rojas (eds.) Archaeology for the People: Joukowsky Institute Perspectives. Oxford: Oxbow Books: 96-107.

Shepherd, N. (2015). The law, the market and the discipline of archaeology: an undisciplined reading. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 19(4).

Shepherd, N, Gnecco, C and A. Haber (2016) Arqueología y decolonialidad [Archaeology and Decoloniality]Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo and the Centre for Global Studies and the Humanities, Duke University.

Shepherd, N. (2017) La Mano del Arqueologo: Ensayos 2001-2015. [The Hand of the Archaeologist: Essays 2001-2015]. Jointly published by Universidad del Cauca (Colombia), JAS Arqueología (Spain) and Noches Blancas (Argentina).